HILLSBOROUGH – This spring did not result in the Hillsborough High School baseball team being able to take the diamond to defend its Skyland Conference championship.
It did not see nine seniors and 13 returning members from last year’s squad, along with their other teammates, playing on the program’s junior varsity and freshman teams enjoying the thrills of America’s pastime.
What it did see, however, was the program make a difference and try to help healthcare workers get the fuel they need to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Through the help of the program’s Raider Diamond Club and its sponsors, the team has donated food to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital-Somerset.
“We get a lot of support from our community and our sponsors,” Hillsborough High School baseball Coach Eric Eden said. “Our team tries to help out the community as much as we can. Everyone is on the same team right now with everything going on. It’s our responsibility to do what we can to help those people in need in the community and our healthcare workers.”
Since there was no spring sports season, the Raider Diamond Club had some unused funds that they would use to feed each of the program’s teams after their away games.
Those funds were earned through the booster club’s annual Super Bowl Sunday Pancake Breakfast and its Rent a Raider program, where players from the baseball program would help people throughout the Hillsborough community.
Richard Wolff, president of the Raider Diamond Club, was thinking of a way for the program to help out first responders during the pandemic and thought the funds could be used for donations to one of the hospitals in the area.
“Every year, our program looks to help out the Hillsborough community in any way possible,” Wolff said. “This is a great community. It always responds to adversity and it shows in hard times like these.”
After making the initial donation, Wolff came to the booster club’s vice president, Fred Versaci, about possibly doing more donations to the hospital.
Versaci and booster club member Pete Bruno then came up with the idea of going through some of the program’s sponsors in the Hillsborough community to do the donations.
Just Subs, IHOP, Bagel Bistro and Moe’s Southwest Grill were the four sponsors of the donations.
The booster club has used the services of Just Subs to give sandwiches to the players for dinner after an away game. IHOP would deliver freshly made pancakes that the booster club would use for its annual Super Bowl Sunday Pancake Breakfast, while Bagel Bistro would send over bagels that would be used at the event. Moe’s has been a loyal sponsor to the program and has a sign on the outfield fence of the varsity baseball team’s field.
“It was a way for us to donate more to the hospital and also raise funds for four of our biggest supporters,” Versaci said. “Coach (Eden) is big on the kids earning what they can. This was a way for them to help people and develop more life values.”
Bruno got connected with George Jonkoski, the director of support services for the hospital.
The two and a representative from each sponsor then coordinated when each place would schedule donations of 25 meals to the hospital. Donations were made during the week on either Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays.
Just Subs supplied three different shipments of sandwiches on Tuesdays for lunch. On two occasions, Moe’s donated dinner meals on Wednesdays.
The hospital received breakfast meals from IHOP on Thursdays and Bagel Bistro on Fridays, with each eatery supplying meals three different times.
For Just Subs, IHOP and Bagel Bistro, a player from the Hillsborough baseball program and a parent would personally deliver the meals to the hospital. Moe’s would deliver their meals themselves.
After the food was delivered from the hospital, Jonkoski and the hospital would send the food to the unit in the hospital they designated the donations for at that time. Bruno said that the booster club and the team did not have say in which unit in the hospital would receive the donations.
The initiative was a “labor of love” for Bruno. In addition to his son, Scott, being a player on the team, his daughter Lianna is an assistant nurse at Saint Peter’s University Hospital.
“Knowing what these healthcare workers are going through during the virus, it was good for our program to help them and show our support,” Bruno said.
Bagel Bistro was scheduled to supply the program’s last food donation to the hospital on May 16, Versaci said.
According to Bruno, the booster club might have one of the places sponsor another donation to the hospital later this month.
The booster club has donated about $2,000 to the cause, Wolff said. Around 325 meals would be donated to the hospital after Bagel Bistro’s delivery on Friday.
This is not the way anyone anticipated the spring going. Senior outfielder Jason Wolff admits that players were “pretty heartbroken” when they heard the news on May 4 that Gov. Phil Murphy was keeping schools closed for the rest of the school year and that the spring sports season was canceled.
It was not the result players wanted to see after training hard all winter at the Branchburg Sports Complex and during the pandemic as well with the hope of getting the chance to play this spring.
Through all the disappointment and heartbreak, Hillsborough’s close-knit program has continued to stay together to help the community, said Wolff, who is happy to be doing something good during his last semester of high school.
“Giving back to our local sponsors and the community was the right thing to do,” he said. “It keeps those places in business and helps healthcare workers continue to help us fight the virus.”